“Pic know about this?” someone asked. Em shook her head.
“When’s the due date?”
“Early next year,” Hunter said. “She’s a little more than three months along, but we wanted to keep things quiet for a while.”
Someone snorted, and I realized it was Darcy.
“Good luck keeping things quiet around here,” she declared.
“Congrats,” a familiar voice said, and I looked up to find Painter staring at Em, his face utterly blank. Everyone stilled.
“Thanks,” she said, but she didn’t look at him. Instead she turned her head toward Hunter, who took the opportunity to press a deep, intimate kiss on her. I blushed, because if she hadn’t been pregnant before that kiss, she would’ve been after. Nobody else seemed to notice or care, though. Nobody but Painter. He turned and stalked off.
Obviously there was a story here. Not that I’d pry … but it was only human to feel curious, right?
Then something in the air changed, and I felt that sense of tension and anticipation that only came when Reese was nearby. I looked around for him, spotting him coming out of the Armory’s back door. His eyes found mine and he smiled. I melted, any lingering annoyance about being left on my own disappearing because just seeing him made me feel special and wonderful.
I really shouldn’t be falling for him this quickly.
He came striding up to our group, throwing an arm around my neck casually, tugging me into his big body with an air of primitive possession that sent a thrill racing through me.
“Emmy Lou,” he said in greeting, and I felt the love in his voice. “Hunter.”
Not so much love for him. Lots of stories I hadn’t heard, here …
“Pic,” Hunter said, nodding. His grip on Em tightened, and that’s when Reese spotted Hunter’s hands folded protectively across Em’s stomach. I felt his entire body tense.
“What’s going on here?” he said, his voice deceptively casual. “I heard screaming, which usually means we’re under attack. Of course, it could also mean that Marie and Dancer found a new nail polish color they like.”
Em smiled at him hesitantly, and swallowed.
“Daddy, you’re going to be a grandpa.”
He stared at her blankly.
“Well, I’ll be damned,” Reese muttered, and I couldn’t quite read his tone. Neither could anyone else, apparently, because we all froze. Finally he spoke again. “Congratulations, baby. Hope you’re ready for it. Kinda like the idea of some little muppet givin’ you hell for a change.”
“Means you’re stuck with me, Pic,” Hunter said, his voice full of satisfaction. Em tugged free and smacked his arm. Then she came toward Reese, who let me go so he could give her a deep hug. I stepped back, not wanting to interfere with their moment.
People scattered, giving them space, and I tried to figure out what to do with myself. Looking around, I noticed that the tables were littered with empty plastic shot glasses and beer cups. Reese and Em were still talking quietly to each other, so I figured I might as well clear up a bit while they shared her big news. Not every day a man learned he had a grandchild on the way.
It was on my third trip to the garbage, arms full of empties, that I spotted Painter out by the big old tree in the back corner of the enclosure. He’d been a jerk to me, but there was something about his body language that caught my attention. For once he didn’t look cocky.
I walked toward him, then put a hand on his shoulder.
“You okay?” I asked, my voice soft. “I don’t know all the history, but to an outsider, it seemed like that was a rough thing for you to hear. Anything I can do?”
He looked at me, and if I didn’t know better I’d say his eyes looked suspiciously watery. Then he shook his head, throwing that casual arm around me once again, pulling me in for a quick hug. Not mocking this time—genuine.
“I’ll leave her alone,” he said quietly. I glanced up at him, confused.
“Melanie,” he clarified. “I won’t bother her, so don’t worry about it.”
I nodded, wondering if he was telling the truth. Reese’s words came back to me—these guys had so many women falling all over them that one more wouldn’t matter, right?
“Thanks,” I whispered. “She’s had a really hard time.”
“Yeah, I get that.”
“Okay, then,” I said, patting his back awkwardly. “You want a drink?” He shook his head and let me go.
“Naw, think I’ll go for a ride,” he said. “Clear my head a little. You go find Pic, help him celebrate. He should enjoy tonight. Things’ll fall to shit soon enough around here. They always do.”
Alrighty, then … I glanced back toward the party, then spotted a cluster of empty cups that had been left on the play structure. They offended my sense of order and cleanliness, and that’s when I realized something wonderful.
I had something to offer these people.
I’d been feeling out of place ever since I’d gotten here, and while the women were definitely friendly and the drinking was fun, I hadn’t quite known what to do with myself. But this—making sure things got picked up, or keeping an eye out for stragglers like Painter? I could do this and help Reese in the process, because despite the fact that it was a social event, you’d have to be an idiot not to see he was under a lot of pressure here.
Better yet? I could do it and still drink.
I felt my stress drop away and I nearly laughed out loud, because I had a job to do, helping the man who’d gone out of his way to help me.
Life was good.
I was still high off my little revelation when arms came around me from behind, catching the cups I’d been holding and setting them on the table. Then Reese turned me toward him, looking down at me in satisfaction.
“You throw yourself right in, don’t you?” he asked, and I smiled, puzzled. “You’re picking up, helpin’ the girls. I even saw you talkin’ to Painter despite the fact that he’s been sort of an asshole to you. You like takin’ care of people, don’t you?”
I rolled my eyes, feeling all smug.
“I’m just being polite,” I said. “Who sits around at a party ignoring a mess like this? I’ve had fun hanging out with the other women, too—they seem like a good group. They’re really friendly, and they’ve told me all sorts of interesting things about you.”